In A.C.O.D. (Adult Children of Divorce) opening Friday, Glee star Jane Lynch plays Dr. Judith, the famous researcher that Adam Scott (best known for Parks and Recreation) turns to as he tries to make sense of his discovery that, when it comes to his own family, he’s the adult and his two warring parents are the children.
Fed up with refereeing their failed marriage and the endless emotional fallout that accompanies it, Scott’s character Carter turns to Lynch’s researcher who years earlier wrote about book about her own experience as a child of divorce, but instead of helping him Lynch decides his story is worthy of a sequel. Naturally she hopes it will be a bestseller like the first.
When people work at cross purposes like this, comedy is often the result and in A.C.O.D., Lynch delivers another note perfect performance as the empathy challenged researcher who could care less about the mental health of the people she studies (and profits from).
“She’s not very interested in helping him so much as launching the second phase of her career,” Lynch, 53, told the Irish Voice last week about her character Dr. Judith.
“It really doesn’t connect to her in any empathetic, emotional way. She kind of skids on the surface of life. I think that Carter is a very earnest guy and has spent his whole life trying to control things. But he’s stuck in the middle of a bunch of narcissistic people, who really are only in it for themselves and that ends up kind of biting him in the butt.”
When Carter’s younger brother Trey (Clark Duke) decides to marry the woman he’s been dating for a few months it brings his warring parents back together for another battle round. It also drives Carter to distraction, bringing up old memories he had hoped to escape.
“His parents (played by Catherine O’Hara and Richard Jenkins) are two people who perhaps never should have gotten married,” explains Lynch.
“Clearly there had once been a very strong sexual attraction, but they should never have had children. I always say to people, know who you’re having children with! You will have to have a relationship with them not just for the next 18 years but also for the rest of your life. I think if people really had to know the people they’re having children with we’d have very few pregnancies.”
In the past if you found yourself in a miserable marriage you were stuck with it. Law, the church and the public all conspired to prevent you from walking away. Marriage wasn’t just a commitment, if it turned sour it was a life sentence.
Now you know why so many Irish grandmothers look so stern in those old time photographs.
“I wish you had to get a license to prove you could be a fit parent,” Lynch laughs.
She’s serious though. In real life it’s no joke to be the only adult surrounded by a bunch of grown up children who should be acting like adults.
It wasn’t Lynch’s own experience growing up Irish American in Chicago, though. Her Irish parents and grandparents taught her values that she holds dear.
“My Lynch side, both my grandmother and grandfather came from Swinford in Co. Mayo,” Lynch reveals.
“My Carney side of the family, we don’t know where they’re from in Ireland. They’ve been in the States so long, since the 1850s. I have a quarter Swedish in there too.”
The Irish influence on her life was the formative one, she admits. It’s been an inspiration for the famously feisty characters she often plays.
“We’re used to battleaxes in Irish households. My grandmother from Swinford was a little peasant girl,” Lynch says.
“She was as tall as she was wide and she ruled the roost. She was so controlling, and so the matriarch and my grandfather was so secondary to her.
“She was a tough farm girl and she knew what it took to survive. When she got to Chicago she bought up the property herself. She had a three-story house built on it during the Depression.
“She always said, ‘I need to have boarders, I need at least two or three rooms available, to get though the hard times.’ And that’s how she got through the Depression. All of these Micks would arrive fresh off the boat and she’d take them in.”
Lynch’s own parents were a much more quiet pair she admits.
“My parents were very egalitarian, they loved each other deeply and they stayed together until death did them part, so there was no power struggle there,” she says.
That’s why it’s interesting that Lynch is attracted to powerful characters in her work. In real life she’s nothing like them.
“I can’t say I walk through life in that way, looking for places to be in charge. I don’t like being in charge, I like being a follower. I am fascinated with people who do, who like that power,” Lynch says.
Playing characters like Dr. Judith or the tough as nails Sue Sylvester on Glee is an opportunity for Lynch — who is openly gay, going through a divorce from her spouse Dr. Lara Embry and retiring to the point of shyness in real life, she says — to step out of the shadows.
“It’s therapy for me in a way because you get to pull parts of yourself up that you may not be leading with in this life, but are definitely in there,” she says.
Because of her outspokenness, and her refusal to ever back down, Sue Sylvester has become something of an icon for the gay community that enjoys watching strong female characters cut through all the barriers erected to keep them in their place. Lynch agrees that Sue’s a terrific role model for a new generation of gay kids.
“She’s uncompromising. Sometimes though when she’s in a bad mood she can be random about her principals, just whatever suits her in the moment,” Lynch says.
“But when it comes down to it she is the great defender of the innocent. If there’s a gay kid being beaten up in the hallway she’s going to go after that bully. If there’s someone being mean to Becky the kid with Down syndrome she’ll go after them. She takes care of the innocent.”
Setting a good example can’t help everyone through every situation though. When Glee co-star Cory Monteith passed away on July 13 from a mixture of heroin and alcohol Lynch led the tributes to the troubled star.
Her heartfelt words stood out among the general responses, underlining how close she held him in her esteem. Her powerful tribute to Monteith at the Emmy Awards earlier this month pulled no punches, as she reminded the audience that like most people Cory wasn’t perfect and that his death was a reminder of the dangers of addiction.
Now she’s focusing on the new season of Glee (that will include a tribute episode to Monteith) and getting the word out about A.C.O.D.
“In A.C.O.D. we’re dealing with the first generation of adults who went through all that as kids,” she explains.
“For that reason I think there are a lot of people who will relate to this movie and story. Of course we tell it in a comic way, but it taken straight from the writers Stu Zicherman and Ben Karlin’s (who writes for Modern Family) lives.
“At the end of the film during the credits the crew even tell their stories about divorce, because it’s become so common. The effects of being in the middle of a nasty divorce can have real effects on people. It’s all in there!”